I do this, you do this, we do that, they do something else
August 11, 2017 2:18 AM   Subscribe

Simplest way of delegating tasks in groups of varying size - by paper, app or unladen swallow.

I'm coordinating work at a non-profit workshop with ≈500 members, totally reliant on volunteer work from our members. We have sixteen different shops (textile, graphics, casting, etc) which never lack in stuff-that-needs-to-be-done (paint a wall, repair a machine) but there's no system for delegating it or even a central place for posting the todo's so it's done haphazardly or by those who already do too much.

Question: How would you suggest to solve the problem of collecting and delegating actionables, and/or allowing people to take on a task and informing others of it?
Requirements: Low cost, simple to use and understand, scales from 10-500 users.
What we've tried: Etherpads and Trello for todo's and delegation. Group emails with lists of todo's. Noticeboards for tacking up notes in some shops. In-person meetings.

There's meeting fatigue at the shop since even thought the meetings can be productive, there's no efficient way of organising the work after a meeting except for immediate stuff. Each shop has one or more volunteer admins who end up taking on too much since it's faster to do the stuff themselves rather than delegate, causing burnout.

I myself like Trello and have tried to sell it here, but it hasn't been adopted and I have no mandate to force people to use it. I'm using Ryver in a side project, but don't know that it would have more success. We have some folks who hate computers with a passion, and some of them are the above mentioned admins, so a computer solution isn't necessarily the best one. Most people have smartphones though, so if there's a simple app which does only this I could probably convince people to try it out. I guess this falls under "groupware" and most of those I've seen are bloated and/or out of our price range, and most often not simple enough to use.

We do have a central elevator which everyone uses, so I could probably commandeer half a wall in it for a big whiteboard or post-its, but it doesn't take much to make them messy and unhelpful so I'd need some suggestions for built-in restrictions (sections, size of post-its, whatnot) to keep it useful. Stuff on the walls in the elevator occasionally gets torn since bulky stuff is transported in it.

Since this isn't the most original of problems I'm sure the hive mind has awesome solutions on hand! Yay you!
posted by monocultured to Human Relations (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest, given that electronic methods aren't likely to be widely adopted, that the good old noticeboard and post it note approach might be best.
A single list of tasks in the elevator is likely to be ignored or destroyed over time, so can you put up a noticeboard in each shop, and managed the tasks on a per shop basis first?
Even if it's a big list of "stuff to do" with big obvious tickboxes or scribbled out tasks when complete. (EDIT: and maybe a column with the initials of who is doing the work?)

The volunteer admins taking on too much themselves is a separate issue, i'd suggest. If tasks are easily visible by a larger number of people in a shop (and broken down into sufficiently simple subtasks), then there may be a greater appetite to complete easy and quick jobs - and see how their work contributes to the completion of the list in the shop overall. If more people can see contributions and workload as a group, it might take the pressure off an individual to complete it all.

Granted this might be an administrative nightmare and a lot of physical work, but once it gets started and people buy in to it, your work might well drop down to the level of managing the workload being distributed to the shops.
posted by jjleonard at 3:44 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

To me, it seems unnecessary that volunteers see all of the to-dos for the whole organization and its 16 locations - is it possible to designate a site lead at each location who is responsible for all to-dos there?

This way, you can host meetings for the 16 location leads, distribute to-dos, and then each site can have its own board of to-dos. The leads can be responsible for keeping a master list of to-dos and statuses for their location only, and those can be copied and put into a master location during the lead meetings.
posted by notorious medium at 5:50 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Do your volunteers mostly do work across multiple shops, or are there a lot of people who are only interested in doing the work of one shop? I think notorious medium's suggestion could be a good one either way.

Here's a suggested workflow:
- At the whole-org meeting, each location team-lead brings a list of "stuff that needs to be done" for their location
- the stuff that needs to be done is broken into actionable tasks
- the actionable tasks are prioritized
- the location leads take their actionable tasks back to their locations and display them in some way that appeals to the volunteers there - could be different methods in different locations; my first impulse would be to go with something along the lines of a physical Kanban board with post-its or index cards, but ymmv
- if one location has a big backlog of tasks relative to others, or there is a larger-than-usual or high-priority task that needs to be done, that's when you use the central noticeboard in the elevator and/or the big email list to recruit volunteers (for the specific task)

- this requires a lot of active management to keep things going
- location leaders should be empowered to reach out to specific volunteers and ask them to complete tasks that are languishing
- group emails are generally going to be less effective than targeted individual emails, especially if you're working with people with different skill sets; "Can someone please do one of these eight tasks?" is generally going to get less response than "monocultured, could you paint the THING in the SHOP this month?" It's more work, but the ROI on the work is probably going to be better.

* there are a bunch of ways you could break this down - one person per location, one person for multiple locations, two or three people sharing management of a few locations. Probably with 16 locations you can't have multiple people for every location.
posted by mskyle at 6:45 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your input all!

The tasks often appear during a members every-day work in the shop – something breaks, some need arises – they're seldom top down or centrally generated. So each member ought to be able to add to it, preferably without going through the admin/lead since many of them are overtaxed and sometimes don't show up here for a month or so (many work offsite as well).

Another reason for keeping different shops updated on each others lists is that the necessary skills might be available in another shop. For example, if the ceramics dept need welding done, that ought to be visible for the metal shop.

I'll clarify that we have two floors of a building so the 16 shops are all under the same roof and within a few minutes walk from each other. Most of our members are using multiple workshops.

We never have whole-org meetings, and even calling all admins to a meeting is hit-and-miss because of work and the volunteer nature of our org. Collecting actionable items is haphazard (someone drops by the office or sends an email).

I like the idea of allowing each shop to organise their own work as they see fit, but I'd like to have one suggestion which is easy to implement and still be useful. A Kanban board as simple as this might actually work for most shops (or maybe one board per floor since space is at a premium).

At this point maybe a better phrasing of my question would be "how can I facilitate others to organise" but that quickly becomes a rabbit hole where "create a better & stronger community" becomes an item and pretty soon I'm buying party hats for a team building exercise…

Some of the tasks I could take on. For example, if I set up a slushmail for member suggestion/requests I could then try to split them into actionables and post on the kanban/online/whatnot. I'm weary of becoming a bottleneck though, and I often don't know each shop as well as someone working in it.
posted by monocultured at 8:03 AM on August 11

Why not set up a meeting with them to let them decide what works best for them? That way they're more invested, and it can address the issues that you may not foresee yourself.

Ideally, you need a volunteer ExCo who takes the lead because doing everything yourself would be crazy. Perhaps frame it as a recognition and check-in session, provide some food and rewards, and ask them what are the main issues they face etc. When this inevitably crops up as a topic (it should, right?) then you can ask them what needs to be done, and how you can help make it happen.
posted by appleses at 8:27 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Is there any reward for finishing these tasks other than a quiet sense of good stewardship? Is there even a record of who does them and who doesn't?

I don't know if this is standard in Kanban boards, but can there be a place where each member can put the post-its of tasks they've finished? Maybe that's in the elevator.
posted by clew at 10:16 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

It sounds like these are mostly smaller, internally generated tasks. I would put a white board in each room with a task area set up with the following columns:
Task - Lead - Helpers - status

Anyone can add tasks and/or add their own names as lead (takes responsibility for getting it done) or helper. Status can include deadlines, "on order" as well as "done"

Someone in each lab has the job of "Keeper of the White Board". This person will update the board based on things that came up in team meetings, put a star by things that are urgent, circle "helpers" where volunteers are needed and then erase completed tasks. You could have a send area for THANKS where people (including the Keeper) recognize people who made contributions or finished tasks

Encourage helpful type people to wander into different labs and see if there is anything on the boards that the person could help with.

You could also have a designated place in the elevator for community wide announcements, including requests for help outside of the resources of a particular lab such as needing a welder or needing all possible volunteers for a big tasks.

In my mind, the Keeper just records but isn't responsible for things getting done. That will make it easier to get someone to do.
posted by metahawk at 12:38 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Since most of you seem in agreement that a whiteboard along kanban lines ought to be tried I'll mark this solved for now - your input is much appreciated.

I'll start with making a board for one of the larger depts and see how that fares, and if that works we'll use it as an example for the other shops to mimic.

On a side-note, I received a copy of "The big book of dashboards" yesterday and I appreciate the case studies and example charts that they're using. If anyone has a page/book recommendation which lists pitfalls of actual design of a whiteboard/kanban that would be super useful. (e.g. "don't use colour coded priority since people don't use those correctly" or whatever). Like animal behaviour experiments, but on office rats…
posted by monocultured at 12:56 AM on August 15

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